Virtual artist Hiroto Kai specialises in creating virtual artwork for virtual art collectors.
Kai creates NFT art and digital clothing for a virtual world known as Decentraland - a decentralised 3D virtual reality platform that runs on the Ethereum blockchain and opened its virtual doors to the public in early 2020. It’s a type of metaverse where things are bought and sold using the digital asset token MANA and that does not have a central organising company.
Non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, are virtual tokens that stand in for things such as artworks or clothing which can be bought and sold as one-offs. In the digital realm, where things can be copied ad infinitum, it’s a way of defining things as unique, think of it like virtual baseball cards, to own, trade and retain their value.
An example of some of the virtual clothing available for sale on Decentraland
The moment when the metaverse crossed over into popular discourse arrived a few months ago, when Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg announced his plans for the social media platform to morph into a completely different entity – a metaverse company.
Going far beyond the platform’s conventional role of connecting people through messaging and social sharing, Zuckerberg actually envisages it being part of an “embodied internet”. But there’s a lot more to the metaverse than a commercialised online landscape dominated by Facebook.
View this post on Instagram
For some time now the metaverse has been an emerging place blending virtual and real worlds, although the idea is not entirely new. To understand it better, it helps to look back at the origin of the actual concept.
The term ‘metaverse’ was actually coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 science fiction book Snow Crash about a time when human avatars interact in a 3D world, and defines a space where physical, virtual and augmented reality converge online.
Virtual design means endless options
For Kai, making digital art has allowed him to quit his job and focus on the metaverse full-time. “I have painted all my life, but NFTs have been the thing to change the art world for me,” he says.
The virtual nature of design and creation is something that doesn’t have the boundaries of traditional art, which gives him more ways to explore and experiment. He describes making art on his computer as “a limitless experience”.
“The things I can create in the metaverse are objects and experiences that we can't yet grasp in the real world,” he says.
An example of digital wearables for sale on Hiroto Kai's website
Even his workflow is very fluid, being on a computer means having all the tools at his disposal, and community feedback means he finds it easier to roll out new creations. As Kai sees it, “if I was making this stuff in real life I simply would not have the ability to do so being one person.
“I can build a fashion line in a week and could build a town in a month.”
Artists and designers working in the metaverse are in the perfect position to share some insight into why people are drawn to want virtual things like artwork or fashion because they can take a more active role in how things are experienced. “I think people are drawn to digital fashion because of the gaming craze, and being able to customise your characters in a different way than before,” Kai says.
“Usually in a virtual world or a game you buy the skins or the wearables that the game makes for you. Decentraland has allowed me to build my designs and sell them to the in-game players. It's fun to dress up and show off your style in the metaverse, and it shows your status among your friends.”
The items are in the metaverse, the (high amount of very real) money's in the bank
One of the noteable aspects of fashion and artwork sold in the metaverse is that some people pay more for things in the virtual world than in ‘real life’, which Kai thinks is down to virtual fashion being both limited edition art pieces, and pieces that don’t undergo wear-and-tear. A virtual Gucci bag sold on Roblox for more money than the physical bag is worth in real life.
“When you buy a piece of clothing in real life the value of the clothing will go down in price the more you wear it,” he says. “These pieces of clothing are forever. They can be bought and sold and traded for many years to come and passed down.”
The price that some items fetch in the metaverse is staggering – suggesting value is in the eye of the beholder as much as the name of the artist.
“Some of the clothing in the metaverse is made by extremely famous artists and only has 10 editions available. There was recently a NASA recreation of the moon launch and I spent $400 on a limited edition jacket,” Kai reveals.
The virtual jacket Kai purchased for $400usd
“I believe that metaverse wearables will be digital gold.”
Kai’s story shows that the metaverse is an emerging space for artists to innovate in the way they create artworks and potentially find a new and lucrative market. Virtual places like Decentraland have developed guides to walk artists through the process, and virtual spaces such as Art & Coffee provide places for artists and would-be artists to meet and share their experiences.
It’s not just artists creating artworks and clothing for the metaverse. Brands are creating their own virtual spaces, too, such as skincare brand SK-II City that takes visitors to the virtual streets of Tokyo. Even forward-looking investment firms such as Roundhill Investments are getting in it and developing a metaverse presence.
Looks like the only way is up.